Frame of Mind

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Frame of Mind
Photograph: Peter Greig
Sydney Dance Company's Chloe Leong and David Mack performing William Forsythe’s 'Quintett'

Sydney Dance Company undertakes a rite of passage, performing the impossible choreography of dance doyenne William Forsythe

This is Time Out Sydney's 4-star review of the 2015 premiere of Frame of Mind.

Sydney Dance Company’s double bill Frame of Mind offers up the chance to see a rarely performed, much acclaimed work by a doyen of contemporary choreography, former Ballet Frankfurt artistic director William Forsythe. That work is Quintett, a 26-minute work for five dancers set to Gavin Bryars’ melancholic 1971 arrangement 'Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet'. 

Alongside this work, which debuted in 1993, Sydney Dance Company perform a new work by artistic director Rafael Bonachela, on whom Quintett had a profound effect when he saw it in 1998, in London.  Bonachela’s work, titled Frame of Mind and set to Bryce Dessner’s Kronos Quartet commission Aheym, is a good tonal match for Quintett, and it’s possible to see some connection to Forsythe’s post-classical style.

It feels appropriate that the evening starts with the older work, as if acknowledging the effect Forsythe had on those who came after. Quintett was developed by five Ballet Frankfurt dancers who share the choreographic credit – and it shows in the work: the choreography is distinctly Forsythe’s in its reference to and then deconstruction of classical forms, and its intricate style; but from the get-go you feel you’re watching five resolutely individual characters, each dancing to their own design or logic as often as they come together in brief moments of synchronised movement.  

Jess Scales and Cass Mortimer Eipper channel their inner Chaplins, and team up for sequences that call to mind the dance numbers in Singin’ in the Rain in their combination of graceful dexterity, joie de vivre and physical comedy. Chloe Leong seems more emotionally raw, and her movements more febrile, even when she’s being ostensibly playful. She and David Mack get some of the more ravishing sequences. The piece relies heavily on a perfect symbiosis between partners, and there are many sequences in which one dancer must run and leap for the other to catch at the perfect moment, seamless. The better this symbiosis works across the performance, the more breathtaking the effect.

Forsythe’s choreography is playful but intense, and its fluid complexity allows little room for downtime or for error; watching the dancers, once imagines that the performance of this piece is as much a mental feat as a physical one. 

But Quintett is ultimately overbrimming with life. The stage cannot contain the dancers: people leave and re-enter the stage, run across it, leap, fall, collapse – and are caught. It chooses to be exuberant rather than neat. It ends mid-scene, as it were, with the curtain falling on a solo by Leong.  

Frame of Mind stands up next to Quintett – which is really saying something. Bonachela always makes excellent musical choices, and it’s evident how close he feels to Dessner’s suite of works for string quartet,Aheym, which he explicates in movement, making sense of even its most esoteric and abstract moments. It’s also a wise choice of music, with plenty of variation in tempo and texture and tone and architecture for Bonachela to play with using all 16 dancers at once or in smaller formations.

There’s a melancholic undertow to Frame of Mind: it’s partly in the music, which sports a strong streak of Eastern European folk; it’s also there in set designer Ralph Myers’ high-ceilinged room with time-mottled walls and one tall window to the world, which he describes as a “melancholic memory room”. Against this the dancers, in black, perform different emotional states and scenes. There are exhilarating whole-ensemble set pieces of synchronised movement; there are duets, including a sensual sequence between Jess Scales and Richard Cilli. But it ends on the up-lift, with a sublime solo by by Cass Mortimer Eipper in a shaft of sunlight.

By: Dee Jefferson

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